The Shack

A Review

I expected a Hallmark type of a movie. The type of movie that casts struggling actors, desperate to break into an industry dominated by only a select few, to make do with the limited budget they have. Usually set in a town with a population of no more than three thousand people, where the main street is the only street, all buildings are made of wood and everybody drives a pickup. But what I got was so much more.

The audience is introduced to the perfect family in a cohesive loving environment about to embark on a camping trip when the eldest children persuade their father to stop at the Multnomah Falls where Mack (Sam Worthington) introduces his youngest daughter, Missy (Amelie Eve) to the legend of the Multnomah Princess. He tells her how there was a terrible disease spreading amongst the indigenous people of the Multnomah tribe. The tribe’s eldest medicine man revealed that the disease had been augured and that the only cure would be if a princess of the tribe sacrifices herself by leaping from the highest cliff. The chief refused to sacrifice one of his daughters and chose to let the disease roam. After one of his daughters saw the suffering the people of her tribe is going through, she decided to take the burden upon herself so her people can once again live the lives they were meant to live. It is at the exact position on the cliff from which she leaped where water started to flow and the people were cleansed.

Skip ahead a few days and the family is about to head home from their vacation when Missy disappears from the camp site. Her clothes, covered in blood, are discovered in an abandoned wooden shack in the middle of the woods. While attempting to deal with the loss of their youngest daughter, the family is torn apart emotionally by a deeply mourning father, rebelling against God.  One winter’s day, he discovers a card in his mailbox, inviting him back to the same shack where, presumably, his daughter’s last breath was taken. He commences on a vengeful excursion with an acrimonious heart, to avenge the untimely death of his daughter, ready to face the man who caused it.

He arrives at the snow covered shack with the still bloodstained floor to find that he is alone. As he treads through the thick snow blanket that covers the earth, he sees a man approaching him. The stranger unexpectedly invites him to his cabin to warm up before he heads home. Mack follows him and as he walks on the meandering path, he walks from winter into summer before reaching the exact same shack, now invitingly warm, filled with laughter and sunshine, covered in all that is beautiful in nature. He is introduced to three people; a warm and loving African-American woman – God (Academy Award Winning Octavia Spencer), or Papa as his wife Nan calls Him, a young Asian woman named Sarayu (Sumire Matsubara) – The Holy Ghost and Jesus (Aviv Alush), the Middle Eastern man that invited him. Mack is then taken on a journey of healing and forgiveness by the ultimate blissful way any person who believes in a Higher Being could imagine.

The film isn’t a technical masterpiece, but let’s be honest, did we expect it to be? Yes, my hopes did go up when I saw Octavia Spencer as one of the leads in the film, but the Christian Film genre still suffers from a stigma and certain prejudice that I too make myself guilty of. The set design complimented the film well but was nothing more of the bare minimum required to be successful while the CGI was blatantly amateurish and a few instances of discontinuity distracted me. Sam Worthington might benefit by a few extra hours with a sociolinguist as his accent tended to break a little towards the end of sentences but he made up for it in acting (credit to the director, Stuart Hazeldine, too) by not opting for predictable overly emotional mourning and deranged sadness in specific scenes. As for the rest, it was all up to par. I feel it worthy to mention that I have never, in any production, seen such perfect casting of an actor in a role as Aviv Alush in the role of Christ.  He portrayed the role exactly as one would imagine Jesus to be – warm, inviting, friendly and calm, respectful, motivational, loving and kind. Through tactful cinematography when Aviv spoke and the complimenting hint of an Israeli accent, you can’t help but feel at ease.

The film is loaded with subtleties (take note of the front garden at the family’s home during the course of the film) that only gain meaning once it is contemplated and became the topic of discussion amongst friends; such as the fact that God approached Mack as an African-American woman in the film, everything his father wasn’t in order to be more approachable. Another prime example of a subtle message in the film is the attentive direction from the cinematographer to allow Jesus and Sarayu to walk nearly out of the frame every time Mack had to make a tough decision, before turning around to reassure Mack that He loves him and wants him to follow, but it is still his decision. Not once did Sarayu, nor Jesus take Mack’s hand to embark on a journey, or instructed Mack to go with, linking to what God truly wants from us: to follow because we want to. He will show the way and He desperately wants us to take every step with Him, but it should be our choice to do so. It is up to us to make the decision to commit to the journey.

I am an over thinker, especially when it comes to films. I have a longing to understand why every single change in tone, piece of décor, camera angle or line were decided on. I struggled to grasp why Papa came to Mack in the form of an elderly Native American man in the middle of the film because, according to Papa, that day’s activities requires a father figure. That specific day resulted in the start of Mack’s emotional and spiritual healing. What I came up with is the following:  The legend that Mack told Missy in the beginning of the film was about a Native American tribe being healed after the sacrifice of the tribe’s princess. Could it be that just as the chief went through a great loss for the people of his tribe to be healed, so Mack had to go walk through the valley of the shadow of death for the immense amount of spiritual healing and intimate relationship to be initiated, drawing a direct comparison with something tangible and known to Mack?

The film doesn’t fit the stigma of the Christian Film genre, nor does it deserve the prejudice I have given it. It is what you make of it. It is an opportunity for you to get to know the heart of the Most High and realize that the very essence of The Holy Trinity is love, nothing less than pure and unconditional love. And if you do not believe, go see it anyway. Not only because I’m hoping that the film speaks to you, but also because you might just understand why some choose to believe. Call it meditation, church, soul searching or whatever you feel comfortable with, but I believe that you will get the insight, clarity or message you long for from The Shack.

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Kong: Skull Island

A Review

Is it just me or does it seem like Hollywood is running out of ideas? Haven’t we seen a remake of King Kong? Hasn’t this been done and done again by now? Or did the box office success of Jurassic World inspire producers to opt for remakes instead of the road not taken?

Kong: Skull Island (nifty subtitle to induce mystery and provoke fear, isn’t it?) isn’t anything like that. It is not simply a remake of a film that has been remade time and time again. It is what I like to refer to as an unofficial re-imagination of the original. Have you ever wondered what it would have been like if King Kong was not sedated and taken to New York to be pointed and laughed at? That is exactly what Kong: Skull Island explores. In 1973, a group of eager scientists discovers what they thought is an uninhabited island surrounded by tremendous storms. Eager to be the first to explore and geologically map the island, Bill (John Goodman) persuades the US government to abet the expedition by supplying them with the support and expertise of the US Army under demand of Lieutenant Colonel Packard (Samuel L. Jackson) and the bad-ass guidance and protection of James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston), a former British Special Air Service Captain.

The group ignorantly detonate the seismic charges to start mapping, when all hell breaks loose and Kong appears to defend his island, destroying all machinery brought to the island by the apparent mighty US Army. The team’s extraction point is on the other side of the island, an island that is in my mind, a cross between Australia and Texas – everything is bigger and everything wants to kill you. The group soon finds out that Kong is the very least of their worries as the charges attract their worst nightmares out of solitude. Having to defend themselves from hellish beasts trying to kill them as well as the island’s natural inhabitants such as spiders so big that you’ll confuse its legs with a bamboo forest, they try to find their way to the extraction point, before their only way off the island becomes nothing but a fantasy.

With immense opportunity to be as cheesy as xXx: Return of Xander Cage, the film will initially create an insincere atmosphere leaving you wondering why actors like Brie Larson, John Goodman and Tom Hiddleston would opt for such a production. But then you take a few sips of your soda and chew one or two crispy flakes of popcorn and you’ll be grasped beyond belief. The mysterious mood set by peculiar music and gloomy set design pull you to the edge of your seat while Hiddleston proves his ability to break free of the character limits set for him by Thor and The Avengers fans.

Kong: Skull Island isn’t a remake, nor just a re-imagined movie. It is a blockbuster which creates opportunity and characters for a possible Kong trilogy. Just like Jurassic World, it taps into the nostalgia of an existing fan base while introducing it to a whole new generation. It is a great film to watch with friends and a better film to watch with your dad.

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Lion

A Review

I thought I knew what I let myself in for when I entered the cinema and took my seat. I was told that Lion left a lasting impression on the audiences that have seen it before me. I was ready for it. I was ready to experience the age old cliché of reuniting a family. But I was not.

Lion. A confusing title for a film about a five year old boy called Saroo (Sunny Pawar) who lost his way while demanding to assist his brother, Guddu (Abhishek Bharate), in providing for their family. Although ill-starred, the two embarked on what would have been a week-long commitment when Saroo is separated from Guddu. After tirelessly searching for Guddu, Saroo falls asleep on a stationary train and ends up 1500 km from home. Saroo is eventually adopted by an Australian couple and raised by love and compassion. Skip ahead 20 years and he once again feels the lack of belonging when discussing his childhood with friends, initiating the search for his family. The only problem is, he only knows the name of his hometown, which according to everyone who tried to help him does not exist, and the name of his brother. When asked what his mother’s name is, he could simply reply “maan”, the Hindi word for “mother”.

Where do you start if you want to evaluate a film so powerful and true that you do not care about possible errors or discontinuation? A film so blatantly honest that you have no choice but to invest your being in what you are experiencing. Although I would rather have Sunny Pawar be nominated for an Academy Award, Dev Patel (The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, The Newsroom) delivers a stellar performance with the same honesty as when he played Jamal in Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire. There are no words to describe the emotion conveyed in this film, no notions of elucidation that can effectively persuade someone to watch this film which so elegantly elevates and accentuates the powerful love of family. The film is more than a masterpiece. The film changes how you view the world when you leave that cinema. Suddenly, you’ll realise how fortunate you are, even if you think you might be the most infelicitous person, this film will remind you of your blessings.

I am not a crier. I rolled my eyes in My Sister’s Keeper and glanced at my watch repetitively during The Fault in Our Stars, but the seductively empathetic film that is Lion had me in tears. And by that, I do not mean that not only did a tear roll down my cheek because of my admiration for the beauty of the production, but also because of the deep realisation that we have a responsibility towards each other. If that means you need to travel halfway around our planet to make a difference and spend every last cent you have to do so, do it; because you might just prevent a story so sad that I had to compose myself before leaving my seat from happening.

If only we cared more for one another.

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La La Land

A Review

When The Artist flickered on the silver screen it introduced something new to me. Not a new genre of film or a new emotion conveyed in the score, but a new nostalgia. A longing for that which I did not know I longed for. It reminded me of my dreams and the stars I added to a clear night’s sky. I don’t think a film will move me to the same extent as Michel Hazanavicius did with his masterpiece that went on to be crowned Best Motion Picture of the Year in 2012. But I could be wrong.

La La Land is, as a cynic would describe it, a film of Hollywood by Hollywood for Hollywood. And that is why I love it. It tells the story of Mia (Emma Stone), a desperate hopeful actress, lucky enough to work in a coffee shop on the Warner Brothers’ lot. Serendipitously, she meets Sebastian Wilder (Ryan Gosling) while he is gently force feeding the public some dignified culture. Seb, a die-hard jazz musician, motivates Mia by liberating her perception of art. By breaking down the superficial impression of what she ought to be doing and building her confidence in expressing her artistic worth through means she has not yet explored.

I thought I was happy. I thought The Artist filled the space in my soul that I knew not was empty. I thought that I finally found the film that I could happily refer to as my favourite film of all time. Oh! How terribly wrong I was. La La Land reminded me that The Artist did not extirpate my longing. It reminded me of what Hollywood is capable of, it reminded me of its beauty and its worth. La La LandIt isn’t a film, like most other critically acclaimed productions, that grips a hold of your heart in order to shock and empty your being from vanity. It caresses your dreams. It reintroduces thoughts and emotions that you forgot you could have.

While watching the film, you’re reminded of Hollywoodland, of an era where a film wasn’t a success without the rhythmic tap of Fred Astaire’s shoes or when Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra spending a night On the Town had the public abuzz. Mandy Moore managed to achieve that exact nostalgia with classic Broadway choreography, mixed with a touch of tap, swing, and waltz. It’s the type of dancing that, when witnessed, induces a gentle sway of the head because you just can’t keep the joy to yourself anymore.

Every aspect of the film complements each other. From the strategic cinematography which intensifies the gracious editing while it is augmenting the score and sheer blissful brilliance of the two Academy Award Nominated original songs in the film; to the striking lightning used to shift focus which created a similar atmosphere to that which I experienced in the Bolshoi. The scrupulous introduction and application of jazz in not only the score but the script itself elevates the message of artistic freedom, creativity and expression in ways I could not have imagined possible. A score so emotive and impressive that it will have you driving home in silence because no rhythm is comparable to the one created out of compassion, hope, and love is deserving of an Oscar. While probably not intentional, Damien Chazelle’s decision to cast J.K. Simmons (Whiplash) in a role small enough to be a walk-on, reminds the audience of the literal blood, sweat and tears jazz artists submit to their art form. The film might have been severely predictable at a stage, but the predictability is ended abruptly through means that would never be expected.

La La Land silenced another piece of my longing for a film like itself. It silenced it with content, happiness, and hope. I wish every film could be like this – spellbinding, without fault and unapologetically true to the town that made it possible.

 

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2017 Academy Award Winners

The Movies

Here is a full break-down of the 89th Anual Academy Awards’ nominees and winners:

Best picture:
Arrival
Fences
Hacksaw Ridge
Hell or High Water
Hidden Figures
La La Land
Lion
Manchester by the Sea
WINNER: Moonlight

Lead actor:
WINNER: Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea
Andrew Garfield, Hacksaw Ridge
Ryan Gosling, La La Land
Viggo Mortensen, Captain Fantastic
Denzel Washington, Fences

Lead actress:
Isabelle Huppert, Elle
Ruth Negga, Loving
Natalie Portman, Jackie
WINNER: Emma Stone, La La Land
Meryl Streep, Florence Foster Jenkins

Supporting actor:
WINNER: Mahershela Ali, Moonlight
Jeff Bridges, Hell or High Water
Lucas Hedges, Manchester by the Sea
Dev Patel, Lion
Michael Shannon, Nocturnal Animals

Supporting actress:
WINNER: Viola Davis, Fences
Naomie Harris, Moonlight
Nicole Kidman, Lion
Octavia Spencer, Hidden Figures
Michelle Williams, Manchester by the Sea

Best director:
WINNER: Damien Chazelle, La La Land
Mel Gibson, Hacksaw Ridge
Barry Jenkins, Moonlight
Kenneth Lonergan, Manchester by the Sea
Denis Villeneuve, Arrival

Animated feature:
Kubo and the Two Strings
Moana
My Life as a Zucchini
The Red Turtle
WINNER: Zootopia

Animated short:
Blind Vaysha
Borrowed Time
Pear Cider and Cigarettes
Pearl
WINNER: Piper

Adapted screenplay:
Eric Heisserer, Arrival
August Wilson, Fences
Allison Schroeder and Theodore Melfi, Hidden Figures
Luke Davies, Lion
WINNER: Barry Jenkins; Story by Tarell Alvin McCraney, Moonlight

Original screenplay:
Mike Mills, 20th Century Women
Taylor Sheridan, Hell or High Water
Damien Chazelle, La La Land
Yorgos Lanthimos, Efthimis Filippou, The Lobster
WINNER: Kenneth Lonergan, Manchester by the Sea

Cinematography:
Bradford Young, Arrival
WINNER: Linus Sandgren, La La Land
Greig Fraser, Lion
James Laxton, Moonlight
Rodrigo Prieto, Silence

Best documentary feature:
Ava DuVernay, Spencer Averick and Howard Barish, 13th
Gianfranco Rosi and Donatella Palermo, Fire at Sea
Raoul Peck, Remi Grellety and Hebert Peck, I Am Not Your Negro
Roger Ross Williams and Julie Goldman, Life, Animated
WINNER: Ezra Edelman and Caroline Waterlow, O.J.: Made in America

Best documentary short subject:
Daphne Matziaraki, 4.1 Miles
Dan Krauss, Extremis
Kahane Cooperman and Raphaela Neihausen, Joe’s Violin
Marcel Mettelsiefen and Stephen Ellis, Watani: My Homeland
WINNER: Orlando von Einsiedel and Joanna Natasegara, The White Helmets

Best live-action short film:
Ennemis Interieurs
La Femme et le TGV
Silent Nights
WINNER: Sing
Timecode

Best foreign language film:
A Man Called Ove (Sweden)
Land of Mine (Denmark)
Tanna (Australia)
WINNER: The Salesman (Iran)
Toni Erdmann (Germany)

Film editing:
Joe Walker, Arrival
WINNER: John Gilbert, Hacksaw Ridge
Jake Roberts, Hell or High Water
Tom Cross, La La Land 
Nat Sanders and Joi McMillon, Moonlight

Sound editing:
WINNER: Sylvain Bellemare, Arrival
Wylie Stateman and Renée Tondelli, Deep Water Horizon
Robert Mackenzie and Andy Wright, Hacksaw Ridge
Ai-Ling Lee and Mildred Iatrou Morgan, La La Land
Alan Robert Murray and Bub Asman, Sully

Sound mixing:
Bernard Gariépy Strobl and Claude La Haye, Arrival
WINNER: Kevin O’Connell, Andy Wright, Robert Mackenzie, and Peter Grace, Hacksaw Ridge
Andy Nelson, Ai-Ling Lee, and Steve A. Morrow, La La Land
David Parker, Christopher Scarabosio, and Stuart Wilson, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
Greg P. Russell, Gary Summers, Jeffrey J. Haboush, and Mac Ruth, 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi

Production design:
Patrice Vermette and Paul Hotte, Arrival
Stuart Craig and Anna Pinnock, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
Jess Gonchor and Nancy Haigh, Hail, Caesar!
WINNER: Sandy Reynolds-Wasco and David Wasco, La La Land
Guy Hendrix Dyas and Gene Serdena, Passengers

Original score:
Mica Levi, Jackie
WINNER: Justin Hurwitz, La La Land
Dustin O’Halloran and Hauschka, Lion
Nicholas Britell, Moonlight
Thomas Newman, Passengers

Original song:
“Audition (The Fools Who Dream),” from La La Land. Music by Justin Hurwitz, Lyric by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul
“Can’t Stop the Feeling,” from TrollsMusic and Lyric by Justin Timberlake, Max Martin, and Karl Johan Schuster (Shellback)
WINNER: “City of Stars,” from La La LandMusic by Justin Hurwitz, Lyric by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul
“The Empty Chair,” from Jim: The James Foley Story. Music and Lyric by J. Ralph and Sting
“How Far I’ll Go” from MoanaMusic and Lyric by Lin-Manuel Miranda

Makeup and hair:
Eva von Bahr and Love Larson, A Man Called Ove
Joel Harlow and Richard Alonzo, Star Trek Beyond
WINNER: Alessandro Bertolazzi, Giorgio Gregorini and Christopher Nelson, Suicide Squad

Costume design:
Joanna Johnston, Allied
WINNER: Colleen Atwood, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
Consolata Boyle, Florence Foster Jenkins
Madeline Fontaine, Jackie
Mary Zophres, La La Land

Visual effects:
Craig Hammack, Jason Snell, Jason Billington and Burt Dalton, Deepwater Horizon
Stephane Ceretti, Richard Bluff, Vincent Cirelli and Paul Corbould, Doctor Strange
WINNER: Robert Legato, Adam Valdez, Andrew R. Jones and Dan Lemmon, The Jungle Book
Steve Emerson, Oliver Jones, Brian McLean and Brad Schiff, Kubo and the Two Strings
John Knoll, Mohen Leo, Hal Hickel and Neil Corbould, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

The biggest winners of the night is La La Land (6 Oscars), Moonlight (2 Oscars) and Hacksaw Ridge (2 Oscars).

Vir die Voëls (For the Birds)

A Review

It is no secret that I am inclined to dislike an Afrikaans film. Not because I regard South African productions to be of a lesser quality than first world countries’ films, but because the majority of  Afrikaans speaking people seems to be satisfied with so little, but only if a tart is thrown in someone’s face and uncontrolled bowel activity is the climax of the writer’s comedic capacity. I entered the cinema with a hope of change that the Afrikaans film industry promises time and time again, but has it finally arrived?

In the trailer, Vir die Voëls (For the Birds) is marketed as a typical Afrikaans romantic comedy about a young woman who portrayed as a grown-up version of Pippy Longstocking – rough, strong willed, independent and untouchable by life’s convention. This perception, however, is only the cinnamon of the milk tart.

Vir die Voëls delves into the core of Irma Humple’s (Simoné Nortmann) being as narrated by herself. Irma grips the audience by taking advantage of one of the most intense moment your life (the dead silence before you are supposed to say “I do”) to show the audience the vast quantity of thoughts that bolted through her mind at that moment. We’re introduced to her as a child where her being’s moulding factors are blatantly forced into the life of a primary school child. Her father, Ivan Humple (Neels van Jaarsveld), numbs his soul by devoting himself to any bottle that comes in a brown paper bag, while her mother attempts to keep the peace. Skip ahead a few years and Irma is at the end of her high school career, having to study for her last final exam when she decides to draw the line her mother, Alta Humple (Nicola Hanekom), never could. Irma runs into her childhood friend, Marieda de Klerk (Lara Kinnear), by coincidence when applying to be a nurse for soldiers returning from the front of the Border War. Irma is pursued by Marieda’s brother, Sampie (Francois Jacobs) and the bulk of the story is set in motion.

There are specific things that I vindictively look for in a film that is set in a specific era. Details that exclaim that the fictional world created for the production of the film is false, whether it be in the wardrobe, set dressing or the types of globes used in lamps. My search exponentially lost its momentum as the story gained my attention. My opinion about narrators was that they should be outlawed. I do not want a voice, a person or even dictation to tell me what I do not know. I regarded it as a fool’s method to stay within a budget and time limit of a production until I witnessed the genius through which the narrator is incorporated in this film. It enhanced the flow of the film without thrusting itself into a scene; it contributed empathy when the audience could only express sympathy.

Furthermore, the acting ability of the new generation of Afrikaans actors seems to be approaching that of, what I refer to as, the Golden Age of Afrikaans cinema. Nortmann has proved herself in comedy and drama and is well on her way to having job security, a rarity for any actor in South Africa, while Kinnear reminds me of Emma Stone in her breakthrough role in Ghosts of Girlfriends Past. Not for one moment did I roll my eyes with the hope of erasing the forceful expression of what is meant to be emotion I had to witness. Hanekom seems to still be stuck in her mindless character in Dis Ek, Anna and seems to not be able to play a character other than that. The films soundtrack assisted greatly in creating an atmosphere in to which most Afrikaans speaking people can relate, resulting in the persuasion that what the audience is seeing, is true and authentic, while the score reminded of the emotive capacity of that of a Pixar score.

I can, with no authority and absolute certainty, say that this is the dawn of a new age for South African film after being thoroughly impressed by this film and Noem My Skollie. Yes, there will be films with the sole purpose to entertain in the superficial manner of disguising yourself to prank people, but let’s not lose focus on what Vir die Voëls achieved.

To a certain extent, this film disguised itself too. It was disguised as a light hearted comedy, promising two hours of entertainment in your home language, but it is so much more. It ripped open wounds to reveal the puss in so many broken families. Families in which alcohol is more important that the members which it ruins. Families that keep their heads high until the weight of the yoke forced on the shoulders of those who don’t confide in addiction is too much to bear. Families that keep up appearances as the British influenced Afrikaans culture dictates – it never happened if it isn’t talked about and simply brushed under the carpet where the corpses of childhoods are hidden. It reveals to the ignorant and those who choose to be naive that the influence of parents on children is far greater than anyone can explain. It is far more precious than any part of a child’s life. It is what moulds a child into the person they’ll be. It determines their selfesteem, their fears, their objectives and their emotional ability.

This film can ignite a revelation within you, within your family, within the South African Film Industry and within our nation, but only if you let it.

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Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

A Review

The bar is set high. Hopefuls and die-hards have sold out cinemas long before the day has arrived.  Moviegoers are dressed up as if they have been summoned. Does the film live up to its great predecessors or did someone simply yell Expecto Patronum?

 First things first; Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is neither a prequel, nor a sequel of any kind to any Harry Potter film. It is a spin-off. It is what Finding Dory is to Finding Nemo, or what Minions is to Despicable Me. A spin-off simply uses the successful base of its predecessor to create a new story line, while acknowledging the characters and plot of its inspiration. Great! Now that that is out of the way, let’s get back to what is important.

Fantastic Beasts brings us to1920’s New York where Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne – The Theory of Everything) just arrived to study and document magical creatures. He is after all a magizoologist… Things take a turn when a measly muggle accidently opens Newt’s suitcase, creating a prime opportunity for some beasts to endeavour on a sightseeing tour of the Big Apple. While doing their best to recapture them, Newt and his muggle run into a bit of trouble when Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston – Steve Jobs), a former Auror, takes them in and attempts to have them brought to justice as Newt is an undocumented wizard running about on the streets of New York and seeing as she stands for what is right, the Magical Congress of the United States of America must be made aware of such atrocities! Long story short, they have a little chat over dinner and see eye to eye resulting in Tina and her sister assisting Newt and his muggle in what they must do.

Anyone who has seen at least one of the Harry Potter films will be excited by the release of the first instalment of a new trilogy from J.K. Rowling’s pen, but it’s grandness is hardly what it is expected to be. As always, Warner Bros. pulled out all the stops throwing every single million dollar bill they have towards the production of the film which is evident in the spectacular CGI, backlots and locations, but I am sad to say that that was about the most impressive parts of the movie. Redmayne seemed to be stuck in The Danish Girl, while supporting cast kept the atmosphere playful. The score managed to evoke limited nostalgia as it piggybacked on John Williams’ iconic Harry Potter theme, but soon changed to melancholic Christmas music that reminded me of The Polar Express’ score, which is then sidestepped by the roaring atmosphere of the Jazzy 20’s. My confusion is soon distracted by scrupulous costume design and meticulous sound editing, which is unfortunately some of the only impressive factors that acted as a life rope for the film as a whole. I’m not saying you should not see the film, I’m merely suggesting that expectations should be lowered.

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Café Society

A Review

Seduced by the trailer which displayed the name of the writer/director and the smooth jazz creating an aesthetic flow of events in 1930’s Hollywood when the sign still read Hollywoodland, I eagerly awaited the film to start. I make sure to see every single one of Woody Allen’s annual art pieces on the silver screen as I often gain a new, queer appreciation for cinema as a whole after viewing his imagination coming to life.

In Café Society, a man called Bobby Dorfman (Jesse Eisenberg – The Social Network) moves from gang-ridden New York City, where his brother is part of the main mob, to Tinseltown. There he employs nepotism as his only method of job hunting and gets paid running made-up errands for his uncle, Phil Stern (Steve Carrel – Foxcatcher). Phil is the guy that everybody who is anybody knows because they were nobody before they became somebody thanks to Phil. Bobby falls head over heels in love with uncle Phil’s assistant (Vonnie – Kristen Stewart), and finds himself in a typical Woody Allen Love Triangle. Events unfold in an unpredictable fashion which leads to Bobby moving back to NYC and starts a successful nightclub with the help of his knee-breaking brother and powerful contacts he made in Hollywood. It soon created a new culture and movement within the social activities of the rich, famous and influential which led to the birth of the café society.

Without spoiling any of the plot, I feel it necessary to mention the presence of Veronica Hayes (Blake Lively – Gossip Girl) in the film. Although Lively doesn’t show a vast range in acting ability nor character played, and although she might have been type-casted – graciously elegant while unmistakably confident – I welcome her to any film.

When the results of big sporting events were discussed at my high school, our principal used to say that we only compare ourselves with ourselves and that is exactly what I’ll do with Mr. Woody Allen’s work. Café Society isn’t anything new. It’s nothing we haven’t seen from Allen before. Yes, the sets were magnificent and the costume design revived an era which has long been forgotten, but the tedious quirkiness and uncertainty of the main character, as with most of Allen’s films’ main characters, got redundant and irritating. The cinematography felt forced with shots that might have only been taken at a low angle in order not to get any evidence of a generation younger than three decades in the frame. Some actors’ direction seemed to be taken too literal, resulting in the delivery of their line being comparable to that of a grade seven school play. At least the narration, done by Woody himself, had some comedic quality to it.

Overall, I’m sad to say that it is nothing that we haven’t seen before and especially from the great Woody Allen.

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Keeping Up with the Joneses

A Review

Upon reading the title, I formed a Stepford Wives type of plot in my imagination. I expected a film about neighbours trying to out-do the other with their white picket fences and their luxury cars. I expected it to be a type of British drama with a touch of black comedy but what I got was something vastly different.

Keeping Up with the Joneses kicks off in suburban bliss where perfect American family of four sending their kids to summer camp so mom and dad can relax and spend some quality time together. All they wanted were peaceful naps on Sunday afternoons and social neighbourhood gatherings in the backyard, but alas! Curiosity seemed to have killed the cat called Peaceful. When Jeff and Karen Gaffney (Zach Galifianakis – The Hangover & Isla Fisher – Confessions of a Shopaholic) meet their new neighbours, The Joneses, Karen immediately suspects them of a false façade. Jeff on the other hand quickly develops a blatant man crush on Tim Jones (John Hamm – Mad Men) and hangs on his every word. Karen decides it to be wise to amateurishly stalk Tim’s majestic wife, Natalie (Gal Gadot – Fast & Furious), and figures out that the Joneses are spies. Determined to stop them, the Gaffneys decide to take the little intel they have to the highest authority accessible – the security guy at Jeff’s work. What follows is a comical combination of action and ignorance, waltzing on the music of singing bullets.

I often describe a comedy as “a fun night out” or some other generic phrase.  Fortunately, those phrases are beneath Keeping Up with the Joneses. Sure the CGI wasn’t perfect at times, but I found myself laughing hard enough at the witty jabs the characters gave each other, that I wouldn’t have noticed it, had I not scrutinized the exploding flames. The seductively beautiful Gal Gadot brings a James Bond­-like quality to the film without attempting to, while Zach’s physical comedy ensures that the whole family will enjoy every second of the film.

I’m happy to say that I didn’t get what I expected. Because that would have been an absolute bore. Instead, I got a gripping action comedy which, for once, impressed me with spy suave that only Hamm and Gadot can pull off as well as a comedy that actually made me laugh. Keeping Up with the Joneses is exactly what you need after a long week.

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Noem My Skollie (Call Me Thief)

A Review

I’ve only gotten the feeling that Noem My Skollie (Call Me Thief) gave me once before. It reminded me of the emotions I experienced while I was watching Shok, the Oscar nominated short film from director Jamie Donoughue, which is based on true events during the Kosovo war. Shok shook me. It opened my eyes to a world unknown to me. But did Call Me Thief’s reminiscence result in induced sympathy due to an emotive Shok, or did the production succeed in provoking empathy in its own right?

Call Me Thief is an Afrikaans film set with the troubled 1960’s Cape Flats as backdrop. We are introduced to a young man called AB (Austin Rose) by his friends, but Abraham by his mother, and his three best friends; Gimba (Ethan Patton), Gif (Joshua Vraagom) and Shorty (Valentino de Klerk). After a series of horrific events, AB decides that the four of them should no longer aim to one day be accepted into an existing gang, but should rather form their own – The Young Ones. The Young Ones are now on an abysmal path, willing to do anything in order to earn the respect of their elders and intimidate their opposition.

Skip a few years ahead and The Young Ones has achieved their goal. Roaming the streets of the crime-ridden and impoverished Flats, AB and his gang feel invincible until the inevitable happens when the then-mighty South African Police Service makes Lady Justice smile – a smile more beautiful than that of Mona Lisa. All this and the film hasn’t even been rolling for half of its justified 2h30.

I must admit that I have never seen a production of this quality from the South African film industry, keeping the bar set by It’s Me, Anna in mind. I like to think that nothing gets by me when I experience a film. I’m attentive to everything from continuity to set dressing and wardrobe design and not a single thing was out of place. Every scrupulous detail such as President H.F. Verwoerd’s address to the nation playing over the stereo in the background to the linguistic quality of Afrikaans in the 1960’s contributed to the empathy evoked in each and every audience member. It resulted in tears rolling down the cheeks of viewers sitting next to me and gasps of shock coming from those behind me. It manifested an understanding of the Cape Flats’ Gangs in the minds of viewers who have not yet been confronted with the treacherous reality in which innocence is thrusted at ages where melting ice-cream dripping from a cone is supposed to be the worst part of the day.  My only wish is that the film’s score had contributed more to the film in order to accentuate the emotions provoked.

The film has the feeling of an Oscar Nominated Film. It has the capacity and the attentiveness that authenticates not only a nomination but an Academy Award. And if by chance the director, Daryne Joshua, might be reading this; thank you. Thank you for breathing artistic life into the Afrikaans Film Industry and thank you for highlighting the immense talent that South Africa has to offer the world. You do not want to miss this film.

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